China's religious minorities especially vulnerable to coronavirus, rights group warns

(Photo: Unsplash/Peiheng Yang)

Christian Solidarity Worldwide has warned that the coronavirus pandemic may exacerbate the decline in religious liberty in China.

Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW) said that the level of religious freedom in China was "rapidly and significantly decreasing". 

It has published a new report, 'Repressed, Removed, Re-Educated: The stranglehold on religious life in China,' in which it warns that not only Christians are being discriminated against, but also Tibetan Buddhists, members of the Falun Gong movement and Uyghur Muslims. 

Lawyers and activists seeking to defend minority groups or stand up for religious freedom are also being targeted in the crackdown. 

Prisoners of conscience in the "dangerously overcrowded and unsanitary" 're-education camps' in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region are especially vulnerable to the virus, CSW warned. 

It estimates that between one and three million Uyghurs, Kazakhs and members of other predominantly Muslim ethnic groups are being held in the camps.

In the camps, they are at risk of torture and ill-treatment, and are under severe pressure to renounce their faith. 

The report makes a number of calls, including an end to organ harvesting and the use of such re-education camps. 

It also calls for an immediate halt to the demolition of churches and the repeal of regulations infringing on the liberties of religious communities. 

CSW's East Asia Team Leader Benedict Rogers said that the Chinese authorities must uphold religious freedom for all people in China and "cease their campaign of harassment against human rights defenders, until we see real and lasting change in the country".

He went on to say that "there are no simple answers" to the challenges facing religious minorities in China, and that they need help from the international community.

"This report is dedicated to the countless individuals who have taken a stand for freedom of religion or belief and other human rights in China, often at grave risk to themselves, and with no hope of reward or even thanks," he said.

"The international community must do all it can to support these individuals as they refuse to accept growing limitations on this fundamental right, and refuse to ignore the suffering of others.

"We urge governments around the world to press China to protect the right to freedom of religion or belief for all."